Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
MCMAHON: Thank you, operator. And welcome, everyone, on this call. This is the Council on Foreign Relations Media call, and it will be assessing President Obama's just announced executive action on immigration. I'm Robert McMahon, Editor of CFR.org, and I'm going to be speaking with CFR Senior Fellow Ted Alden today, and Ted's one of our leading chroniclers of immigration policy, and he's got a fresh blog post up this morning on the president's announcement, which is part of our featured coverage on CFR.org today.
I'm going to speak to Ted for about 15 minutes or so about the president's action announced last night, and then we're going to open up the call, and we have until 2:00, if necessary, to dig into the immigration and immigration reform matters.
So, Ted, I wanted to kick it off by mentioning that with the sheer number of people affected, roughly five million undocumented immigrants, and the human impact, this is a big deal, but you downplayed the overall significance in your blog post this morning. You noted that those affected will, essentially, be "tolerated guests rather than permanent residents." So, could the president have done more to affect their status of this?
ALDEN: Well, I think if you look -- and thank you very much, Bob. It's good to be on the call. I think if you look particularly at the deferral of deportation, the answer is probably no. You know, it went to the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, and there's a lengthy opinion basically laying out what justice believes is the scope of presidential authority with respect to actions such as these.
But the broader point I was trying to make in my blog post is really to underscore how much genuine reform in immigration policy still depends on action by the U.S. Congress. I was part of a council task force that we did here a few years back. I was the project director for it. The effort was chaired by Jeb Bush, who's, clearly, still in the mix for the 2016 presidential elections, and Mack McLarty, who was Bill Clinton's Whitehouse Chief of Staff, and we made a series of recommendations there for a broad congressional overhaul of immigration policy. Pretty much everything we wrote in that taskforce report, sadly, remains relevant today.
So the point I was trying to make in my post today is that while there's no question this is an expansive action, one that will affect in a positive way the life of many, many unauthorized immigrants, it really does not, quote, fix our broken immigration system." The problems remain pretty much as deep as they did before the president announced his action last night.
MCMAHON: Also because -- let's talk a little bit about the politics that you referred to, then, Ted. So, because of this action, which, as you say, affects so many people but is still sort of limited, because of it, though, we could have a corrosive effect with the now Republican led Congress, or soon to be fully Republican led Congress. And maybe pushing further remotely, any, sort of, deep seated reforms to immigration policy? After all, previously, at least the Senate, you had what looked to be some bipartisan support for immigration reform, but not the House. Now both Houses, perhaps, it's a big of a poison well. Does this action, then, you know, sort of undermine overall goals in immigration reform or did it still need to happen in some way?
ALDEN: Well, I think there's no question that immigration reform still needs to happen. There are enormous problems out there. The question of the impact is, of course, what everyone is trying to calculate. I -- I -- you know, my -- and this is all water under the bridge. My hope was that the president would have done this back in June when Speaker Boehner informed him that the House Republicans were not going to be able to act on the Senate bill or on anything like that.
There would have been a, kind of, logical cause and effect there. The congressional effort has stalled and, therefore, the president is taking executive action. The timing now is, in a lot of respects, not very good timing, of course, because you got a new Congress coming in, and so this is immediately a kind of slap in the face to the new Congress. So I can see the concern there.
The real question, though, is what the Republican Party is going to do with this. I mean, the main reason that comprehensive immigration reform efforts have been stalled for many years is internal division within the Republican Party. There are some members of the party that are very supportive of reform, and many who aren't, and nothing has really changed on that front.
You know, if I were advising the Republicans on this, I would encourage them to try to move some of the pieces on which there's broad agreement in the party. I mean, one of the possible political impacts of this move by the president is to break up the need to do all of this comprehensively. So, you know, the Democrats have wanted to see, for good reasons, comprehensive reform because they feared, well, if we just do it piecemeal and we deal with each of the components, that some kind of broad legalization will never happen.
Well, if I were in the Republican Party right now, I'd say well, look, there's a legalization piece here. We've got five million who at least have deferred action. Why not move some of the other pieces of immigration reform through the Congress and see what the president's reaction to that is. But, you know, all of us at this point, obviously, are speculating. We don't know how the Republicans are going to respond and what the impact of that will be, so I hesitate to predict whether this will poison the well or whether, you know, a good -- a good club to the head is where it might actually allow for some progress on the other pieces of reform.
MCMAHON: Another aspect of the president's address that hasn't gotten as much, sort of, front burner attention was involving legal immigration, so, you know -- and there was hope of enhancing prospects for skilled immigrants, but, as you write in your blog, these proposals are rather underwhelming. Can you kind of talk about that a bit?
ALDEN: Well, I think, you know, what's been done here is rather modest. And I'll talk about a few of the specifics, which I think will have a positive, day-to-day impact. But there had clearly been some hope in the business community, particularly among the high-tech companies, that there would be the prosper (ph) for some expansion of skilled legal immigration as a result of this action.
There had been various press reports that there might be additional visas freed up. There are different ways the administration could have done that, by recapturing unused visas from previous years. One of the ideas that was floated was, you know, you have an annual cap of 140,000 employment-based visas, which is now used not only for the applicant but for spouse and children as well. There was some talk about only counting the primary applicant. None of that happened in this action.
And I was quite struck by the fact that the Whitehouse doesn't even appear to have asked the Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion on what the president's executive authority might have been in those areas. The OLC opinion is all about the scope of presidential authority for deferred action. So I thought that was interesting. I mean, that tells you that this is a lesser priority for the Whitehouse.
The particular measures that are there, I mean, some of them, I think, are quite positive. There's the potential for a path in for immigrant entrepreneurs, which there's really no, sort of, easy legal visa path. Now there's a talk about using a power called parole in place to allow for entrepreneurs to come in and try to establish companies here. It's, you know, a partial version of what the StartUp Visa Act in the Congress would have done, but potentially useful.
There is talk about issuing new regulations that will make it easier for people who are here on temporary visas who have applied for green cards to change jobs. So, just in sort of simple terms, if you're here on an H-1B Visa, and you've applied for a green card, you've applied through your current employer, and, under the current rules, generally, if you move to another employer, you have to file that application all over again. So if you're facing a five, six, seven, maybe 10 year wait for your green card and you switch jobs, then suddenly you're at the back of the line again, there's talk about changing that so that you can move from one company to another, which would be very positive because a lot of H-1B visa holders get stuck in positions for a long period of time there. There are issues about changing jobs and whether the job is similar.
So there are a bunch of, sort of, regulatory issues here that I think are significant, and I think the action's a positive one. These are all things that the administration could have done outside of some grand executive action like this. This is all things that could have been done on their own, but, perhaps, by bundling them together as part of this action, they'll get some political momentum that they would have lacked otherwise. So small moves that really don't solve the big problems, but positive, nonetheless.
MCMAHON: So let me speak to the skilled immigrant aspect just for a moment, then, Ted, and take a step back. You've consistently written and spoken about the number of such visas for highly-skilled immigrants is too small, and pointed to studies that showed that a larger H-1B program would be good for the U.S. economy. Can you kind of flush that out a little bit? Why is this matter -- why is this particular area one where -- one - first, there should be bipartisan support and should be acted on?
ALDEN: Well, I think there clearly is bipartisan support. You know, if you look at bills that have gone through the House, Representative Chaffetz several years ago, High School Immigration Bill that passed the House overwhelmingly, very strong support on the Senate side. I mean, there can be debates over whether the H-1B program is the best vehicle or not, but I don't think there's any question that it's in the interests of the United States to attract and retain as many high-skilled immigrants as we can.
The real pipeline here is, is it a U.S. university system, which remains, by far, the best in the world and highly attractive to the best students from everywhere in the world. We just saw the release last week of the latest foreign student numbers. We're getting up close to 900,000 foreign students, which is a record number, a disproportionate number of those in science, technology, engineering fields of one sort or another.
And the current path for those people who remain in the United States is a very difficult one. The H-1B program is quota limited and the quota gets exhausted every year. There are long waits after you get your H-1B before you finally move to a green card and, eventually, the citizenship. There are difficulties with your spouse working while you're here on an H-1B, though, some of the regs here might help with that a bit.
So there have just been a lot of obstacles to allowing people that clearly bring considerable economic benefits to the country to come to the United States or to remain here if there are here as foreign students. And it's pretty from the debates over the last five or six years, there is broad bipartisan support for measures that would increase levels of skilled immigration.
MCMAHON: Great. Well, I think we'll open the call at this point. And those of you on the line should get ready to ask some questions. This is a Council on Foreign Relations media call that is assessing President Obama's executive action announced last night on immigration, and we're talking with Ted Alden, CFR Senior Fellow.
So, operator, could you -- could you let me know if there's any question on the line, please.
Operator: Thank you, sir. At this time, we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key, followed by the one key. That is star one on your touchtone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, please press star q. And we are now holding for questions, please press star one.
Our first question comes from Richard Sisk from Military.com.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Alden. Thanks for doing this. Could you please address what was at the bottom, the absolute bottom of the Whitehouse fact sheet that was put out last night and that concerned non-citizens in the military? Currently, as it's been explained to me this morning over here at the Pentagon, if you have a green card you can enlist. But, if your relatives, your mother, your father, are undocumented, then you can't. And the president is proposing, and the Pentagon backs it up, to change that. And, also, to give assistance, once you're in the military, to helping your undocumented relatives. What do you think about that?
ALDEN: You know, there are a lot of provisions in this, and this is one that I am still trying to figure out. I'm hoping that my friend Margaret Stock, who works on these issues, actually did an event for us here a couple of weeks ago, will have a definitive answer on that. So if you know Margaret, I encourage you to track her down. She was the architect of the MAVNI program that you might be familiar with, that allowed (inaudible) people who are here legally but don't have green cards, a small number of them enlisted in the military. That program is now on hold apparently over the issue of whether DACA recipients will be eligible for participation in the MAVNI.
So what they've talked about in the executive action here is allowing parole in place for spouse, parents, children of U.S. citizens who are lawful permanent residents. Parole in place is a discretionary power that the Executive Branch has to allow someone to remain in the United States even if they don't have some other kind of legal permanent status. And it sounds from this like they are willing to extend that to people who wish to enlist in the military, which could broaden the pool of potential recruits.
But I, honestly, at this point have not figured out all the specifics. I've actually been trying to talk to Margaret this morning to see if I can get a few more details on exactly how this is going to operate. The language, as it stands, is that, and the USCIS has been directed to draw up policy on this in conjunction with the Pentagon and others. So I don't think we actually know, yet, what the real world impact is going to be, but keep in touch. I'm still trying to clarify this and, hopefully, I'll have more soon.
QUESTION: Yeah. Apparently, DHS will have a say in this and, also, you know, what I've been told (ph) is I had no idea they knew that this number was this high, but since 9/11 we've had 92,000 -- 92,000 troops (inaudible).
ALDEN: Yeah. I mean, you know, if you're a -- if you are a green card holder, right, you can enlist, so that's a lot of non-citizens who potentially enlist, and once you're in the military, there are provisions for a fast track to citizenship. So I can't confirm that number for you, but it doesn't sound unlikely to me.
The issue, really, has been people who are not green card holders. And you particularly have -- the reason this is an issue is -- I mean, it gets back to my broader comments about the problems in the legal immigration system. So, say, you are a teenager who comes here with your parents, and your father's on an H-1B visa. OK. So your father has temporary legal status in the United States under an H-1B visa. And maybe your dad's applied for a green card, but there's backlog and he's going to have to wait 10 years to get a green card. So while that's happening, he's working under the H-1B, you hit the age of 21. Well, under U.S. immigration law, you no longer have any status. The fact that your father has an H-1B gives you no status in the United States.
So, there are a lot of these young people because of the long delays for their parents to move to green cards, who end up in situations where they're out of status in the United States. And one of the things the MAVNI program did was, you know, it provides some sort of avenue for those people to enlist in the military and find themselves on a fast track to a green card and citizenship. We'll have to see whether the policy that they're talking about here is potentially going to broaden that pipeline into the military for people in that kind of situation.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MCMAHON: Thanks for that question. Operator, do we have any other questions at the moment?
OPERATOR: At this time, we have no questions. Again, if you'd like to ask a question, please press star one at this time.
MCMAHON: You know, while we're waiting, Ted, I was going to just touch on something that you referenced earlier, which was as the immigration reform effort was, let's say, unraveling last year around June, you were saying that would have been a good time to come up with what was announced last night. Do you have any sense of why this moment, a few weeks after the mid-terms, the president did decide to make this call or anything else about the timing of it?
ALDEN: I mean, you know, I don't know anything probably on this than anybody else does, and, you know, I assume the reason they didn't do it in June is that they weren't ready to do it yet, even though I think the timing would have been very good because there would have been a direct cause and effect.
We all know that the president had said he would do it before the end of the summer, and then delayed because of concerns about the impact on the mid-term elections, particularly on Democrats who were in Republican leading states this year that this would -- this would damage their electoral chances. Clearly, their electoral chances were damaged anyway. I think the reason now is he, you know, delayed for some period of time, had made the promise that he was going to move forward, and just felt like he needed to move and get it out of the way.
There are certainly people who argue it would have been better to go to the Congress and say, look, you know, I'll give you one last chance, set a deadline of some kind, you know, maybe next June, and say, you know, if I don't see congressional action by this time, then I'm going to move ahead on my own, but that's, obviously, all water under the bridge at this point, and we'll have to see what the political impact of the action is.
MCMAHON: I think it'd also be helpful for those on call to just sort of discuss a little bit the -- what is the modern -- or what is the current profile of an illegal immigrant in the country? I think this announcement has brought to the floor the fact that there are so many people who've been in the country for so long, but there were also -- there was also this very active deportation policy going.
I think President Obama has helped -- or has been responsible for deporting close to two million people at this point. But they were the newer arrivals. They are people with criminal records and so forth. Could you talk a little bit, Ted, about the profile of many of the illegal immigrants in the country now? There's the five million, obviously, but there's an overall estimate of 11 million. These are people coming in, who are working on jobs, and we all have read about the types of jobs we're talking about. There are unskilled positions. There are landscaping positions. There are positions in all sorts of blue collar type jobs. Can you talk a little bit about the profile of a legal immigrant?
ALDEN: I mean, I think it's -- you know, it's hard to generalize, and there's a lot of really good research out there on this. Jeff Passel's work at the Pew Hispanic Center, I think, has offered us probably the most complete portrait of the undocumented population in the United States. I mean, I think that the biggest thing to note is, as you say, a lot of these people have been here for a long time now. There was a very large wave of unauthorized migration in the United States in the 1990s and through the first five or six years of the 2000s. Overwhelmingly, from Mexico and Central America, but also from other places, you know, really all over the world.
What we've seen since about 2007as a result, both of the economic slowdown and a vastly increased enforcement efforts, particularly at the border, is that the unauthorized migrant population has plateaued, so we really have seen no increase in the size of that population in the past six or seven years now.
MCMAHON: These are Mexicans and Central Americans, for the most part?
ALDEN: Yeah. I mean, not exclusively, but those are the two largest categories. I mean, what we're seeing more recently is fewer Mexicans and more coming up from Central America, particularly from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. A fair number of those fleeing violence of one form or another, as opposed to just being purely economic migrants coming into the United States seeking better work opportunities.
So the sort of typical border crossers profile has been changing in recent years. There are many fewer of them. More of them are fleeing violence rather than looking specifically for economic opportunity. And a growing percentage of them are people who have been removed in the past and are trying to come back to reunite themselves with their families here. So, you know, if you go back to the 1990s, the typical border crosser was a young Mexican coming to the United States looking for work opportunities, men primarily. That's less so today.
So what that -- I mean, what that means, I think, for this action is you do have a lot of people who qualify under the criteria that you would have had to have been here for at least five years in order to be eligible for the deferred deportation. The overwhelming majority of the unauthorized population here in the United States has been here for at least that amount of time.
MCMAHON: Thanks, Ted. Operator, I wanted to queue again and see if there's any questions on the line.
OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press star one. We do have a question from Jacqueline Albert Simon (ph) from Politique International.
QUESTION: Yes, hello. Thank you, both, so much, for both the questions and the answers, which have been very helpful. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about process. We are talking about five million people, and we're talking about slow, stubborn bureaucracy. During that period that those five million people hope to apply, go through the process and so forth, what's the prognosis for how long that could take, how many years? And how many more people will become eligible as the five year limit exceeds the number of people who have been here now less than five, will they then can say two years we are eligible because the bureaucracy is so slow?
ALDEN: Let me -- let me try to respond to that, and, you know, again, on a lot of these things the details are developing. If you look on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website, there's an effort to try to address a lot of these questions. This is absolutely a legitimate concern, because you have in the immigration processing bureaucracy, you have, in a lot of cases, rather long delays. Though, it's important to distinguish between delays that are a result of quotas.
You know, for instance, the very long waits for a green card are not a result of slow processing by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They are a result of the fact that we have a quota that says you can only hand out so many green cards each year. And, in fact, there are sub quotas that say no more than seven percent of the green cards can go to citizens of any single country. So if you're from China or India or one of the large countries, you face much longer waits. So that' a primary reason for the delay.
The issue of bureaucratic slowness is quite secondary in that context. What the government is saying is that they are prepared for this, that they have surged resources in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to try to ensure that they can process these applications without, at the same time, slowing down all of the other immigration-related applications that are coming in all the time. We'll have to see, of course, how that plays out.
I mean, one thing to keep in mind is it's not as if five million people are going to come forward tomorrow. And under the previous action, the deferred action for childhood arrivals, so the so-called dream -- dream act kids who were beneficiaries of a similar action that the president authorized in 2012, it appears that only about half of that eligible population -- the estimates were about one and a half million -- only about half that many have come forward to seek the deferment. And I think it's likely that very many fewer than five million will come forward under this action, so the number will not be nearly as large as that.
DACA worked pretty efficiently. I mean, people got through the system pretty quickly. There did not appear to have been delays in other aspects of immigration processing. So I think it was a kind of dry run for this broader action. It was pretty successful. So I am mildly optimistic, and I think that's all you could be, mildly optimistic, that the bureaucracy will be able to handle this.
QUESTION: Thank you for that. I hope to retain your optimism.
MCMAHON: Thank you for that question. You know, Ted, as you were speaking, I was also thinking about the previous presidents who have taken these steps, and I think none of them have been even close to this in terms of the scale. Although, previous presidents for both parties have deferred deportations, but there have been sweeping steps taken on immigration reform by Republicans, certainly. And many people point to President Reagan and the Reagan Administration's moves in Simpson-Mazzoli. What have we learned about these efforts, the bigger efforts to try to take on illegal immigration and the impact it's had on -- you know, on the movement of people into the country and the country's response.
ALDEN: Well, you know, I mean, one of the -- you know, obviously, one of the arguments against doing something like this action is, you know, the magnet effect or the amnesty effect. In fact, this is an argument you hear quite often on the Republican side, that this will simply encourage more people to come. There's not a lot of evidence of that effect, you know, from the history.
If you look at what happened after 1986, I think it was driven entirely by a combination of economics. There was huge demand in the United States for low skilled labor in the 1990s. Unemployment rates got very low. Lax enforcement, which was clearly a problem in the 1990s, and the big demographic bulge in Mexico and Central America. Really, none of those conditions exist now. The other thing I think that's a little different from this in previous actions is I -- and, again, I say this with a little trepidation because you never know for sure, but I think we're likely to see a lot less fraud this time around. I mean, the conditions are quite specific. So you have to have been here since January 1, 2010, and you have to have, you know, American citizen spouses or children.
Under the 1986 act, for instance, there was a broad legalization of agricultural workers, and there were a lot of people who were able to come up with documents that looked authentic enough that seemed to show that they had been working in U.S. farms, when, in fact, they hadn't been. There's a lot of evidence that there was pretty widespread fraud in that program. I don't think you're likely to see that under this action.
So my reading would be that the magnet effect of this is likely to be very limited. There won't be people who are trying to come to the United States illegally thinking that somehow they can piggyback off of this action and get some kind of toehold in the United States. So I'm not anticipating that there will be much of a response in that regard.
MCMAHON: So as President Obama said, one of the big impacts, bringing people out of the shadows, and, then, of course, the human -- sort of the very human condition aspect of families being allowed to stay together or, in some cases, be reunited.
ALDEN: Yeah, which is -- which is huge. I mean, you know, you have people who will not live daily in fear of arrest and deportation. They will -- I mean, they'll have to apply to the government in advance for what's called advanced parole, but they'll be able to travel back to their countries to see family, which they haven't been able to do for years. Work permits means, you know, they're not in danger of being fired if they're unauthorized status is revealed. So a lot of, obviously, very positive and important things for the individuals affected.
But one of the points I was -- I was trying to make in my blog post is this is far, far short of what the congressional legislation would have offered. There's a lot less certainty, obviously status that could be taken away by a future president. So it's not a situation of saying well, job done. There's clearly a lot of work still to be done on the whole range of immigration issues.
MCMAHON: Thanks. I want to go back to the operator and see if we have a question on the line. Operator, do we have any questions, please.
OPERATOR: Yes. Our next question comes from Priscilla Bakes (ph) from Mitsui (ph).
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. I was wondering if you could talk about the broader political implications of the executive order. You mentioned that this could have a corrosive effect with -- between Obama and the Republican led Congress next year. And was wondering if you have further thoughts on, especially with this spending bill and other legislation, that might get tangled up in the immigration debate. I know it's not your - you focus on the immigration, but wondering if you have any thoughts on that, on the bigger political implication.
ALDEN: Well, I mean, I've actually worked a lot on, you know, a couple of the other issues that people are saying might be affected. One, is trade promotion authority is an area that's been talked about as an area of possible cooperation between the Congress and the Whitehouse, and tax reform. And my reading would be that neither of these issues ought to be affected in any significant way. I mean, there's generally, in the Republican Party, a fair bit of support for trade promotion authority. It's not like this is a particular gift to the president. This is something that a lot of Republicans wants. They believe in free trade. They'd like to see the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements concluded successfully. I can't see any particular reason that this action ought to impede cooperation on that front.
Tax reform is, obviously, very, very hard. You know, there were efforts made in the last Congress. Dave Camp, Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, put out a very thoughtful proposal that never found its way into legislation. It's a hard issue. But, again, I don't see any particular reason that this action ought to impede cooperation on that front. I mean, the question, and it's really, you know, a broader question for congressional experts, which I'm not, is whether you'll see, you know, just some sort of general, across the board obstructionism in Congress. So the Republicans being so angry about this, that they will go to the brink of government shutdown, will try to defund portions of the government.
I have to think the answer will be no, because it's not likely to be a terribly successful strategy. I mean, you know, I'm being, you know, slightly apocryphal here, but, you know, one of the ways the Republicans could go after what the president has done here is to vastly increase the resources for immigration enforcement. The whole legal rationale for deferring deportation for this category of people is limited resources. The administration has to exercise prosecutorial discretion because there are 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, and there's only resources available to remove about 400,000 a year.
Well, if I were a Republican leader, I wanted to be clever on this, well, why don't you double the resources and say you can remove 800,000 a year. And there goes much of the rationale for prosecutorial discretion of the sort that the administration has exercised here. So, we'll have to see, but I think it would not be a smart strategy for the Republicans to respond to this action with general obstructionism, as opposed to targeted measures of one sort or another.
MCMAHON: Thanks for that question. Ted, I wanted to ask one quick follow-up, which is, obviously, this is a matter that requires federal action, but I think one under -- potentially one under-reported aspect is the role that U.S. states have started to take. You know, you have -- I think there's something like 10 U.S. states that now offer driver's license to illegal immigrants, for example, in terms of ways of bringing them out of the shadows. Have you seen anything else in your study of this issue that shows a further movement by states that, you know, could be -- have some sort of palliative effect even while the federal government is mired in its own problems?
ALDEN: Well, you know, the states have been going in all sorts of different directions on this. And there's been a lot of action at the state level, and I can't, you know, give a comprehensive overview of it, but a number of states, Arizona, some of the southern states and others, have obviously taken actions to try to crack down on illegal immigration in various ways.
Others, like Utah, proposed doing their own guest worker program, where they would be able to invite foreign workers in and the federal government did not offer the waiver that would have been necessary to do that. But I think this will throw up a lot of questions for the states on how they want to respond. You mentioned the driver's license question, so, you know, individuals who are eligible for this deferment will be able to get, you know, work authorization papers. They'll be able to get social security numbers. It will be up to the states to decide whether, as a result of that status, they should also be eligible for driver's licenses, and in a lot of states it clearly will be. But there are other states that will push back against that. So, clearly, there are going to be a lot of issues that are thrown up for each of the states in deciding how to respond to what the president has done here.
MCMAHON: Great. Thanks, Ted. Operator, I want to see if you had any other questions on the call right now?
OPERATOR: At this time we have no further questions. But, again, that is star one if you would like to ask a question. We do have another question from Michael George, (inaudible) Fortress Investment.
MCMAHON: Please go ahead.
OPERATOR: Mr. George, your line is open. Please make sure your phone is not on mute.
QUESTION: Yes. If I were a Republican, surely a good way for me to ensure the failure of this program would be to simply announce that in two years' time, if we got control of the House and the presidential office, to say that I would use the program as a nice, neat (ph) list for deportation.
ALDEN: Well, I mean, this raises a very interesting question. And, you know, I had mentioned that I don't think we're likely to see five million people come forward, and that will -- you know, that will be the calculation that individuals will have to make, and it's a difficult personal calculation, right, because, obviously, you do come forward, you have identified yourself to the government in a way perhaps you weren't identified before. And if people are scared about that possibility, they're going to be reluctant to come forward. And so, I think, one of the issues that we will hear a lot of discussion about over the next while is what are the enrollment levels? Are people, in fact, scared to come forward or not?
I think it's unlikely that a future president, even a Republican president, would take an action as drastic as that. I mean, even prior to the Obama Administration, there were very -- the deportation numbers really ramped up over the 2000s. They were quite early in the first part of the Bush Administration, but by the end of the Bush Administration, we had got close to the 400,000 number that has become the figure ever since. But, even then, the priority was clearly being placed on people with some kind of criminal record or other reason beyond just their illegal presence to make them a priority for deportation.
So I would be surprised to see a future Republican president take that sort of action, but this, obviously puts, you know, the individuals deciding whether to come forward, in a difficult situation, because while there's potential benefit here, potentially you do make yourself more vulnerable as well.
QUESTION: But would it surprise you if, say, Senator Cruz got up and said something like that?
ALDEN: Wouldn't surprise me at all.
MCMAHON: Thanks for that question. Operator, do we have any other questions on the line, please.
OPERATOR: At this time we have no further questions.
MCMAHON: All right. Well, I think we're going to wrap the call at this point. This has been a CFR media call on the record on assessing President Obama's executive action on immigration. And we've been fortunate to have Senior Fellow Ted Alden navigating the issues for us and, really, exploring them in many different directions. I want to thank those on the call for joining in, and also to Ted Alden, obviously, for framing the issues for us. This concludes this CRF media call on the executive action on immigration.
OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today's conference. You may now disconnect.